One of the most tense and challenging RTS games available, irrespective of era.

User Rating: 9.5 | World in Conflict: Soviet Assault PC
World in Conflict is an intense RTS game based on the premise of an 1989 Soviet invasion of Western Europe and ultimately the mainland of the USA. This game is very much in the spirit of the Reagan-era and the player plays, in the Complete Edition, as both a US/NATO and Soviet/Warsaw Pact field commander, controlling his direct combat assets and various off-map tactical support elements.

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NOTE: This review specifically covers WiCCE (Ver 1.011) however, as this game encompasses its component parts: WiC and SA, it is duplicated under those titles, which given the identical system and gameplay I believe is valid. All that applies to WiC also applies to SA however the combined "package" of WiCCE is the more fullsome experience of this great narrative driven simulation of a hypothetical World War III.

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My purchase of WiC was pretty much driven by my long involvement in board wargaming since the mid-1970s (using printed "real world" maps and cardboard counters to represent historical military units, for those of the current electronic gaming generation). Growing up in the Reagan-era there was, at times, a palpable threat of war between the USA/NATO and Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact and several wargames were produced examining this hypothetical conflict at strategic, operational and tactical levels. Some of these were quite far-fetched including ones hypothesising a USSR attack on mainland USA. I never accepted that as a likely possibility but certainly conflict along the NATO - Warsaw Pact "Central Front" friction lines in central Europe, particularly through West Germany to the Atlantic coast, were more plausible. At the time I read a number of well researched, though ultimately fictional, books of the proposed conflict by General Sir John Hackett (notably Third World War, August 1985), Shelford Bidwell (World War III), Tom Clancy (notably Red Storm Rising) and Harold Coyle (for example, Team Yankee). Personally I was always more worried about Reagan than the Russian leadership, but that's a whole separate discussion.

I purchased a copy of World in Conflict (WiC) in August 2008 and got right into playing it as far as Mission 4 even though my then PC (with ATI 9250 card) struggled with the high end graphics and even buying a "on sale" copy of the excellent WiC Prima Guide. However a few weeks later I got the MOH and COD "Warchest" editions and have immersed myself, almost exclusively, in the various FPS and tactical shooter games I have played and reviewed since. My son who has a lot of experience with RTS games, like the Age of Empires, Rise of Nations, Battle for Middle Earth, Total War, Command & Conquer and Company of Heroes series games, started and kept playing WiC all the way through over a few days ... while I looked on amazed at his ability to juggle all the elements to keep advancing through the campaign.

Anyway, I noticed that the Soviet Assault (SA) add-on was released in early 2009 but the reviews of it were mainly on the basis of $-cost of the add-on, rather than how good or bad the new Soviet viewpoint missions were, so I delayed my purchase. Anyway the prices of both WiC Complete Edition (WiCCE) and SA have dropped steadily such that I purchased WiCCE for less than SA alone at a sale. I also had some concerns about potential compatability issues between the original Sierra and recent Ubisoft versions so I figured what the heck, get the single new full game. By now I had a high end PC, with Nvidia GeForce 9600GT, so was ready to belatedly resume playing this great RTS, now with the extra Soviet missions first to fill in on what was previously "missing" in the narrative. In any event the installation disk for WiCCE comes with a separate directory for SA so I just installed that (it automatically loads into the original Sierra directory, otherwise the full install creates a new Ubisoft directory). Well the "Campaign" button allowed play of both the original and new missions but I opted to start a new campaign profile to enjoy the full game from beginning to end as intended. [My first impressions of WiCCE, before going back to playing FPS games again, are in my 10 Sept 2009 blog.]

As many reviewers have said, WiC is an awesome RTS gaming experience. You really need to be on your toes and acting/reacting to keep ahead of the enemy, whether the Soviets or US/NATO. You have at your disposal all the land (infantry and AFVs) "toys", together with a variety of air (attack and scout helicopters), artillery, anti-air and "off-map" aerial/ground/naval support bombardment options that were available to both sides in the mid-1980s. This is indeed one "Total War" experience, with no apologies to that franchise which does for the ancient and medieval eras what WiC does for modern combat. Combat action is full on and being RTS you can't focus on any single tactical engagement, you need to step back and see what is going on at the operational level. Use that camera! Push here, yield there, reinforce or retreat ... you are faced with countless decisions, one after the other in real time.

When you have time, do zoom in, fly around with the camera, and enjoy the action ... the 3D graphics are incredible, almost FPS quality. You really do need high end graphics capability, I noticed that with my old(er) ATI card the trees and distant textures flickered on and off diminishing the enjoyment, however the new(er) Nvidia card has no issues whatsoever. This is nevertheless a resource hungry game but well worth the experience of play and watching the action unfold. The detail of the in-game animations and explosions is quite remarkable for an RTS game, akin to the later Total War series that my son plays.

Anyway the SA addition has a new opening showing the initial Soviet covert infiltration and the inevitable hammer thrust through Berlin. I was backpacking through there in mid-1989 when the Wall was still standing and fortunately the only Warsaw Pact "advance" then was by East Germans, Poles and Czechs through Hungary, into Austria ... but that's a whole other story too. It's nice to see the main Soviet characters in WiC humanized rather than overtly stereotyped. Bannon (US) and Malashenko (Soviet) are more stereotypical "cold war" characterisations that you will love to hate.

WiCCE comprises 20 missions, made up of the 14 in the original WiC and the 6 made available as part of the SA add-on. The addition of the Soviet focussed missions(*) and the related cut-scenes makes for an overall better experience, and is very much in the fashion of Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising novel, whereby which we see the war from both sides' points of view. The missions are played in the following order, which is more or less chronological at least for narrative purposes, although a few flashback missions are strung together to set the scene for earlier and later action:

* Liberation (Soviet, East/West Berlin)
Invasion (US mission, Seattle waterfront)
Reunion (US mission, Seattle suburbs)
* Harvest (Soviet, rural Washington state)
Battle for Pine Valley (US mission)
Into the Mountains (US mission, near Fort Teller)
* Insurgents (Soviet, rural Washington state)
Last Stand (USA mission, Cascade Falls)
Seeing the Elephant (US/NATO mission, coastal south of France)
Deep Strike (US/NATO mission, southern France)
* Lightning Strike (Soviet, coastal Norway)
Beyond the Iron Curtain (US/NATO mission, near Murmansk)
Lair of the Bear (US/NATO mission, near Murmansk)
* For the Motherland (Soviet, near Olenegorsk/Murmansk)
Liberty Lost (US mission, New York Harbor)
Aftermath (US mission, Cascade Falls)
Once More Unto the Breach (US mission, near Clearwater Creek)
* Fratricide (Soviet, near Cascade Falls)
Before the Storm (US mission, Puget Sound)
One Last Fight (US mission, downtown Seattle)

In the missions marked with an asterisk (*) you play as the Soviets, in all others you play as US and/or NATO. The gameplay is identical during the Soviet missions, although you have different unit types, they do behave very similarly to their US/NATO counterparts ... indeed their purchase point costs and main fuctions are essentially "identical". While this raises a few quibbles about how the different weapons systems are depicted, for example an M1 Abrams is not the same as a T-80 or Leopard 2, nor is a AH-64 identical to a Mi-24 or Mangusta. Nevertheless for gameplay purposes this is largely irrelevant as it is how you use these weapons systems rather than the subtle differences between them at the tactical scale depicted. The six Soviet missions close the loop, so to speak, on the narrative and make the game a far more enriching experience ... far too many games only give you one perspective. Also the game requires you to give your all when playing as the Soviet forces otherwise you cannot progress ... this I think is very clever and certainly demonstartes the difference between "good and evil" or "right and wrong" is all a matter of where you sit on the continuum.

The narrative structure during gameplay and cut-scenes are superbly done and give the game "a page turner" thriller feel. You just want to keep playing to see how it ends ... albeit the ending is somewhat predictable as the US/NATO will ultimately prevail ensuring our consumerist way of life. The overarching narration, by Alec Baldwin (who played Jack Ryan in Hunt for Red October), is excellent ... he hits the right tone all the way through. Other voice talent is equally up to the task and lends to the immediacy of what's going on in the campaign. As you progress with each mission you get radioed messages from your commanding general about your performance and if you are not going well he will have no trouble telling you ... and you can feel pretty dejected if you get a chewing out. Graphics, as noted above, are superb with fully destructible environments and the attention to detail (spend the time to zoom in occassionally) is quite astounding.

I played WiCCE on "Normal" difficulty and that was rather challenging on certain missions. The most difficult mission, I felt, was final US mission recapturing and securing Seattle ... I think I must have seen that fair city destroyed by a nuclear cruise missile about ten times. I eventually replayed that mission on "Easy" a few times before I finally worked out how to complete the time-limited "Secure the Harbour" segment. This last mission was almost akin to an FPS "boss fight" in its relentless difficulty and resultant teeth gnashing and table thumping. Once you get past that section you need to capture the Soviet HQ and hence stop the missile countdown, after that its a lot less stressful.

Gameplay, for even a non-RTS afficionado, is easily picked up and I tended to use the mouse and on-screen panels to issue the various deployment and attack/support commands rather than the keyboard short-cuts, although this is a case of personal choice and/or a function of your memory retention. Enemy AI is quite good and unrelenting, you need to keep adbvancing to cease and defend/control the various highlighted objectives and occassionally it will take several attempts to get this right. The game is overall non-linear, while you have to achieve certain objectives how you do this is largely up to you as commander of the forces at your disposal. The ability to sensible use and timing of reinforcements, repair and support functions is the key to this game. The missions (seem) to get more difficult as you proceed through the campaign as you progresively need to co-ordinate more and more assets in addition to those under your direct control. Thus the game adds more dimension and negates the "more of the same" effect experienced in many games with longer campaigns. Thus WiC allows you to keep learning new things all the way through the game which enhance your skills to meet the challenges of the more difficult later missions.

The ability to play either as the US/NATO or Soviet/Warsaw Pact faction in multiplayer games is an added bonus. All the maps from the WiC and SA are included as well as a range of other MP-specific maps that allow battles from the sands of Nevada to the icy lands of northern Europe. Truly a great bonus with all three MP modes, Domination, Assault and Tug of War, are equally playable by the single player vs enemy AI bots as well. To play as a single player vs AI bots is quite enjoyable and easy to set up: select the Local Network (LAN) option ... Create Server ... Max Players = 2 ... Fewer Player Mode (optional) ... Add Bots ... Set Bot Mode ... Advanced (optional, depending on your tastes). This SP LAN option is highly recommended and unlike a lot of games it presents the ability to play both factions on all the MP maps as a single player.

OVERALL: Truly a memorable RTS experience that even confirmed FPS fans will enjoy ... a square meal of a game with multiplayer extras equally enjoyable by the solo-warrior. My son who has played and beaten a plethora of RTS games puts this among his favourites ... I have to agree, albeit coming from a FPS background. Certainly WiC is well worth buying in its CE guise, which is now even cheaper (~A$25-A$35) than when I bought it; for those with vanilla WiC I recommend getting the SA add- on/expansion as it is around A$10-$15 now and playing the combined game all over from the start. I enjoyed this game so much that I adopted it as my blog and forum posts banner.